|by James Baldwin|
|Far away in the Frozen Land in the long ago time a master wizard forged the wonderous sampo or mill of fortune, which ground out all sorts of treasures and gave wealth and power to its owner. This story, retold in from the Finnish Kalevala, tells of the making of this mill and the adventures of the heroes who sought to gain possession of it. Ages 11-14 |
THE UNFINISHED BOAT
EVER were two pledged lovers more
stanch and true than the ancient Minstrel and
the youthful Smith, and their
affection for each other grew stronger and
stronger as the days went by. The brief summer
waned, and the long winter came with its
sleet and snow and furious storms; but through
all the weather changes and the varying fortunes
of the year, the mutual devotion of the two
heroes remained steadfast. Ilmarinen toiled
daily in his smithy, hammering out chains and
hoes and axes, and shaping things of beauty and
of use for his kinsfolk and neighbors in Wainola.
And the Minstrel also toiled, composing new
songs of love and conflict, retelling old tales of
mystery and magic, and studying to discover
the secrets of nature and of life.
"Come and live with me," said the younger
hero to the older. "My cottage is roomy, my
table is large, and my hearth is cozy and warm.
My mother, Lokka, will welcome you; she will
 serve you and prepare toothsome victuals for
your meals. Your sweet songs will enliven the
hours of evening and we will converse often
together concerning those things that are nearest
to your heart and mine. Come! Come and be my
"I thank you," answered the Minstrel. "We
shall both be happy."
And so, without further persuasion, he took up
his abode in the home of his friend; and Dame
Lokka the Handsome, the best of all the matrons
in Hero Land, kept house for them both.
"What have you wrought in your smithy
to-day?" old Wainamoinen would ask as they
met at the evening meal.
Then the master Smith, grimy with soot and
gray with ashes, would begin to tell of a hoe he
had beaten out, or a gold ring he had fashioned;
but ere he had spoken a dozen words his mind
would wander far away to a low-roofed dwelling
in the Frozen Land, and the rest of his speech
would be a burning discourse in praise of the
Maid of Beauty.
"Now, sing us your newest song, sweetest
of minstrels," the younger hero would say as
they sat together beside the evening fire.
 And the Minstrel would begin with a hymn of
creation, or a tale of mighty strife and heroism;
but at the end of the strain he would forget his
subject and begin to chant a ballad of love or a
ditty recounting the charms of the matchless
maiden of Pohyola.
Thus, ere long, it came about that the two
friends were constantly and forever recalling
the sweetest memories of their lives—memories
which, strange to say, were also mingled with
thoughts of experiences that had been unpleasant,
painful, humiliating. They talked daily of
their strange adventures in Pohyola; and now
in the halo of long absence, the Frozen Land
was remembered only as a land of spring
showers and summer sunshine, and their days
of sadness and gloom were forgotten in contemplation
of the blessedness which they had felt
in the presence of the Maid of Beauty. And
now her image seemed always before their eyes,
and her voice seemed calling to them through
the misty and frost-laden air of the desolate
Gradually, and by a process unknown to himself,
Ilmarinen came to think of her as he
thought of the sun and the stars and the wonderful
 sea, as something mysterious, sublime, incomprehensible,
which he might worship from afar but
never hope to possess or understand.
She was his deity, his Jumala, as far superior to
him as he, the prince of smiths and wizards, was
superior to the beasts of the fields and woods.
But the Minstrel, old and steadfast, was more
worldly-minded. He remembered how the
maiden had laughed at him and twitted him as
she sat on the rainbow plying her magic shuttles
and weaving the web of the unmeasured sky;
and as he thought of her words and her
taunting manner, his feeling of reverence for her
was tempered with a desire for some sort of
revenge. Therefore he resolved that he would
get even with her; verily he would show her
that he, too, was one of the mighty—a magician
unexcelled in power, a master of things seen and
unseen. And having done this, what would be
easier than to make her his own?
Long did he ponder, and many were the
thoughts that came into his old, experienced
mind. Day after day, week after week, he sat
by Dame Lokka's fireside, thinking, thinking,
thinking—yet keeping all his thoughts to himself.
 "He is composing some new, sweet song," said
the motherly matron; and she refrained from
At last, when the wild geese were again honking
in the quiet fjords and the frogs were making
the marshes musical, he perfected a secret plan
by which he hoped to win the object of his
desires, and at the same time add much to his
already matchless fame. He told no one of his
project, but he clenched his hands together and
shut his teeth hard with determination.
"None but women say, 'I cannot'; none but
cowards say 'I dare not,' " he repeated to himself
again and again as though he would bolster up
Then, unknown to Ilmarinen—unknown to all
his friends and neighbors—he set to work to
build a boat, roomy and stanch and shaped for
It was his intention, when this boat was finished,
to make a secret voyage to the Frozen Land
and boldly make known his suit to the
Maid of Beauty. If she would listen to him
and accept the high place of honor which he
had once before offered her—if she would
consent to be the mistress of his kitchen, to bake
 his honey cakes and sing at his table, well and
good; the fame of Wainamoinen, prince of minstrels,
would be carried to the ends of the earth.
But what if she should scorn him as before?
Was he not a magician? Through the power of
magic he would subdue her; he would carry her
aboard his vessel; he would bring her, willy
nilly, to the Land of Heroes; she would have no
choice but to be the queen of his dwelling in
The boat itself was to be built by magic. By
magic spells the beams were to be hewn and
properly placed, the keel was to be laid, the hull
was to be made stanch and shapely. No hammer
was to be used in the work of building, but
every nail and spike must be driven in the right
place by a magic word that was known only to
the prince of wizards, the first of all minstrels.
The place which Wainamoinen chose for the
building of his boat was on the shore of a shady
island well concealed behind a lofty headland.
Trees grew along the shore, and there were
thousands of them covering the hillside; but they
were small trees, mere saplings, and would be
of little use in boat-building. Where could the
Minstrel find fit timber for his vessel? Who
 would cut it for him? Who would saw the
boards, and who would carry them to the shore?
The Minstrel could not do these things by magic
alone. He must have help.
In a cave on the hillside there dwelt a brown
dwarf, the last of the ancient of earth men.
He was small of stature, wrinkled, and old—so
old that he himself had lost all reckoning
of his age. Men called him Sampsa, and
they told many a tale of his wisdom and cunning,
and how in former times he had guarded
the treasures of kings. His days were spent in
the forest and his nights in the unexplored
chambers of his cavern home. He knew by name
every tree and shrub that grew in the Land of
Heroes, and he understood the language of birds
and of beasts and of every living thing. Who
better than he could be the Minstrel's helper?
With a golden axe upon his shoulder Sampsa
sauntered, singing, through the forest. To each
slender sapling and to every beast and bird
he said, "Good-morning!" and every bird and
beast and growing tree returned the salutation.
Presently the little man paused beside an aspen,
smooth of bark, and tall and graceful. The tree
trembled and every leaf upon it quivered when
 he held before it his sharp-edged axe with golden
poll and copper handle.
"O master! O man of earth," it whispered,
"what do you wish of me?"
"I am seeking timber for a boat," answered
Sampsa. "The Minstrel is building a magic
vessel to cruise on northern seas, and he has
sent me to find a tree from which to make the
beams and keel. May I have your trunk, my
The aspen groaned, and every one of its thousand
leaves seemed to have a tongue as it softly
murmured: "Surely, I am not fit for boat timber.
My branches are hollow; a grub has
eaten my heart. My wood is soft and pithy;
it would never float upon the water. I pray
you, pass me by, O master!"
"You speak well," said the dwarf; "stay
where you are and enjoy the soft breezes from
the sea. Whisper your light songs to the birds,
and let them nest among your branches. I will
look elsewhere for boat timber."
He shouldered his golden axe and trudged onward,
deeper and deeper into the forest. In a
secluded valley between two mountains, he found
a pine tree, green and slender and beautiful.
 He struck it lightly with his sharp axe-blade,
and every needle on its branches shrieked as
though in sudden terror.
"Why so rough, good Sampsa?" asked the
tree, bowing its head and bending before the
"Friend pine tree," he answered, "how will
your trunk do for boat timber? The prince of
minstrels, Wainamoinen, has sent me to find
some for the magic vessel he is building."
"My trunk is not fit for such use," said the
pine tree, speaking loudly. "My wood is
knotty, gnarly, scraggy, hard to fashion in any
manner. It is brittle, unsmooth, easily split and
broken. It would make but a poor boat."
"It would make good beams and a fine mast,"
"But very unlucky, very unlucky," answered
the pine. "Three times this summer a crow has
sat on one of my branches, croaking misfortune
and foretelling disaster."
"Then fare you well, my evergreen friend,"
said the dwarf, kindly; "I will look elsewhere
for my boat timber;" and again he shouldered
his axe and resumed his walk through the forest.
 It was noon and the sun shone hot on land
and sea when he came to a giant oak tree on the
summit of a green hill. This oak tree had long
been the monarch of the woods. Its branches
reached out on every side nine fathoms from the
trunk, and its topmost twigs seemed to brush the sky.
"Good-morning, friendly oak tree!" said
Sampsa; and a tremor of joy ran through every
leaf and branch as the noble tree answered,
"Our friend, the Minstrel, is building a boat,"
said the dwarf. "He wants good timber with
which to make the beams and the keel and the
boards for the hull. He would have it broad
and high and very swift. He would have it
beautiful and strong. But as yet he
has found no wood that is fit."
Then from every leaf of the great tree there
came a sound of music, a song of joy; and the
acorn-bearer answered, "O master, I will gladly
give him of my wood. It is tough and stout
and free from knots and worm holes. The grain
of it is straight, and no other wood can equal it
for withstanding the weather and the salt sea-water."
 "That is good," said the dwarf; "but what
omens of good or evil are yours?"
"Omens of good fortune are written on my
branches," said the oak. "Three times this
summer a cuckoo has rested on my topmost
bough. On every clear day, sunbeams have
danced among my leaves. On every clear night,
the silver moon has looked down and smiled
upon me. And so I pray you to take me for
the Minstrel's magic vessel. I long—oh, I long!
to float on the blue-backed sea, to carry treasures
from land to land, to fight with the storm
and conquer the waves."
Forthwith, the earth man smote the oak with
his magic axe, and the tree uttered a cry of joy
as it fell prone upon the earth. Then with skill
and great patience Sampsa hewed and cleaved
and shaped it into beams and boards, more in
number than he could reckon. He planed them,
he sawed them, he fashioned them with infinite
care until each was of the proper length and
thickness. And when, at last, all were finished,
he carried them out of the forest, one by one,
and laid them on the beach where the Minstrel
"Behold, O singer of songs!" he said. "Here
 is the wood for your magic boat. These are for
the beams, these are for the keel, and these are for the
well-shaped hull. May the fairy ship float
lightly upon the waves and bear you whithersoever
you desire to go! May it be a joy to the sea, and
a wonder to the world!"
The Minstrel thanked him and then began to
chant the magic spells by which to put the beams
and boards in their places. These, one after the
other he sang, and he recited the runes whereby
to shape the whole into a stanch and swift-sailing
vessel. With one song the keel was fashioned;
with a second the gunwales were laid; with a
third the boat's ribs were fastened in their places;
with a fourth the rudder was hung at the stern.
No hammer was used, no axe nor mallet;
but every nail and spoke and bolt was
driven by a word of magic from the lips of the
prince of minstrels.
At length every spell was recited, every rune
was sung, every magic word was spoken, and
the wonderful vessel was completed—all except
the nailing down of the three long boards at the
bottom of the hull. The Minstrel stood aghast—without
three words more his boat could not
be launched; it could not be made water-tight;
 it would never skim the foam-capped waves of
the northern seas. He stroked his chin, he
tapped his forehead with his forefinger; no
word of magic, not even the shortest, could he
call to memory.
"How unlucky I am!" he cried. "Misfortune
follows me, and all my wisdom is in vain.
Never can my task be finished unless I can find
the three words of power that are lacking. My
plans will fail utterly."
He sat down upon the white sand and pondered
upon the troubles that confronted him.
For five summer days he sat there—yes, for six
long days he tarried by the shore not knowing
what to do. And the little ripples on the beach
laughed at him, and the sea birds flapped their
wings in his face, and he felt himself to be helpless.
On the seventh day a white swan flew down as
though inspecting his boat, a gray goose
made its nest under the well-hung rudder, and
a flock of swallows sat twittering upon the gunwales.
"Ah! Perhaps the words that I need
so badly have been stolen by some of these
birds. Perhaps they are concealed in the head
of a swan, in the brain of a goose, or under
 the tongue of a swallow. I will examine into
this matter and see."
The next day, therefore, he took his bow and
arrows and went hunting. He slew a whole
flock of swans; he killed great numbers of
geese; and hundreds of swallows fell, pierced
by his unerring weapons. But in the brains of
all these creatures he found not a single word,
nor yet so much as the half of one; and under
the tongues of the swallows, there was nothing uncommon.
The Minstrel was not wholly discouraged.
"Perhaps the missing words are beneath the
tongue of some four-footed animal," he said.
"Perhaps a squirrel, perhaps a summer reindeer,
or perhaps a gray and skulking wolf is hiding
the precious secrets in its throat or between its
jaws. I will search and find out if this be true."
So, for nine days—yes, for ten days of terror—he
went stalking hither and thither through the
woodlands and the meadows and the boggy
thickets, shooting every timid creature that his
eyes could see. He slew an army of squirrels;
he killed a field full of reindeer; he slaughtered
gray wolves without number. Cruelly, as one
devoid of pity, he filled the forest with sorrow
 and death. He found strange words in plenty,
groans and shrieks and cries of pain, but among
them all there was not one syllable of magic.
At length he ceased his bloody work, he laid
his weapons down, grief overcame him, and sorrow
for the destruction he had wrought. All
night long he sat on the sand beside his unfinished
boat and bemoaned his evil fortune. All
day he wept—but his mind was strong within
him, and he would not give up his undertaking.
On the second day, as the sun rose red above the
hilltops, a raven flew croaking among the
trees. "Caw! caw! caw!" cried the bird of ill-omen.
"Stop your cawing! Stop your crying!"
shouted the Minstrel, full of anger. "Did Tuoni
send you hither to taunt me? Begone! Return,
I say, to your master, Tuoni!"
The bird flapped its wings, and Wainamoinen
heard from far in the forest the echo of his words,
Then a strange thought came into his mind.
He leaped to his feet, he clapped his hands, he
shouted his oft-repeated maxim: "None but
cowards say 'I dare not!' "
"You speak truly," said a voice beside
him—  it was the voice of Sampsa, the little man of the
woods: "You speak truly; and since you are
not a coward, what will you next dare to do?"
"Far away, on the world's edge," answered
the Minstrel, "there is a land of silence and fear,
the Land of Shades, the kingdom of Tuoni.
Many men have travelled thither—heroes not a
few, woodsmen, fishermen, even fair women and
tender children—but never has any one returned
to tell of that land. All things that are
lost, all things that are forgotten, are stored away
there; they lie in King Tuoni's treasure house
waiting for the day when all things will be
remembered. The three magic words that I
desire are hidden there—the raven, Tuoni's bird,
has reminded me of it by his croaking."
"And will you dare to go thither and get
them?" asked the dwarf.
"I will dare," answered the Minstrel.
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